Backpacking with Dogs


When I pull out our backpacks, Argos is jumping for joy. Time for another wilderness trip! A weekend trip to a nearby National Forest or a week-long adventure in the Glacier Peak Wilderness in Washington State are just as exciting for my 12-year-old Shepherd mix. He knows we’re on our way to the backpack and boy is he ready?

You and your dog can prepare too – and why not? Once, at the summit of Angel’s Rest (a cliff on the Columbia River Gorge), about three miles uphill from the trailhead, I met a bean-strong dachshund who was in great shape. Most dogs can enjoy trekking outdoors. Just be realistic about your dog’s endurance potential and tailor your trip to suit their abilities. Few experiences compare backcountry trails with your dog, and with the right planning and preparation, your trip will be fun, safe, and respectful of the animals and plants whose homes you visit.

Preparation is key and starts with things that you – as a responsible dog owner – have already done. Your dog is spayed or neutered (which will reduce this urge) and microchipped (collars are a choking hazard and tags can fall off). You have made sure he is trained to respond to basic obedience signals that will help you control his behavior on the trail and he is up to date with the latest vaccinations protecting both him and the wildlife.

While rabies vaccination is the only one required by law, others are essential if you are hiking in wild areas and even in nearby “urban wilderness” where foxes and coyotes make their home and where water sources can be contaminated. An unvaccinated dog is not only at risk of disease, it can also transmit diseases to wild dogs. Your dog should be vaccinated against Bordetella (“kennel cough”) and have the standard DHLPP vaccination, which protects against distemper; Canine hepatitis; Parvo; Parainfluenza; and two strains of leptospirosis, a bacterial disease most commonly transmitted through direct contact with contaminated urine, either on land or in water. Several veterinarians I spoke to suggested a leptospirosis vaccine that protects against four common strains; They also warned that even a dog who has recovered from the disease can shed the bacteria in its urine for up to a year and should not be moved into a wild area during that time.

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